There are always obstacles when translating from one language to another and this happens most times with idiomatic expressions and slang. These pose problems occurs because they do not mean what the individual words mean literally, and these idioms often involve cultural history that a foreigner would not know. In fact, often these idiomatic expressions pose the most problems for foreign students who cannot make sense of what American students are saying when they use them. Some languages, such as German, have a plethora of idioms and slang that are difficult to translate.
The following foreign words aren’t impossible to translate; they just describe phenomena that would take a sentence or two to describe in English.
- ERBSENZÄHLER: Control freak person. Someone who is obsessed with details.
This is the nitpicker who is always trying to make everything perfect down to the tiniest of peas: Erbsen means “peas” and Zähler means “tally.” So, an Erbsenzähler is a person who literally counts their peas. The expression can also refer to someone who’s stingy and doesn’t want to spend any money on anything.
- WANDERLUST: Strong desire to travel.
Wanderlust describes the desire to leave the comfort of our home, fill the pages of our passports, and make our Instagram account be something out of a travel magazine. All while meeting new people, seeing new cities, and experiencing new cultures. #bliss
- ERKLÄRUNGSNOT: The state of having to explain yourself quickly.
It refers to the exact moment you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar and forced to explain yourself with only a split second to think. Unless you’re a good liar, the results of erklarungsnot are usually unbelievable and silly, like “my dog ate my homework” or “I didn’t know streaking through the grocery store was illegal!”
- ZUGZWANG: To be forced to make a decision.
You use this word during a time when you feel immense stress or pressure and have to make a strategic decision. Zugzwang originally described the feeling chess players felt when trying to make a move, but the word is now used whenever it’s your turn to make a decision.
- FERNWEH: Distance pain.
This is the opposite of being homesick. It’s that feeling you get when you want to be somewhere else, somewhere sunny and warm.